miniStack V2 Enclosure Kit, by Newer Technology
Posted: 7-Jul-2006

5 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Newer Technology Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE

Overview
Newer Technology's miniStack v2 enclosure kit is a high-performance 3.5" external hard drive case designed specifically for the Mac Mini. Newer sells the case with drives already installed, or just as a kit to install your own drive. The case supports 3.5" ATA hard drives up to 750GB in capacity, and provides an additional 3 USB 2.0 ports and 2 Firewire ports.

The Mac Mini comes with a 2.5" internal hard drive, but the drive is not very fast, and limited in size. You could attempt to replace the internal drive, but you are still limited to the 2.5" drives, and replacing the internal Mac Mini drive is no easy task. The Mini is not designed to be opened by typical buyers, nor is it easy to open even for the technical inclined. The easiest Mac Mini expansion alternative is an external hard drive. There are lots of external drives on the market, but most of them are big, often wider than the Mac Mini itself. The miniStack, on the other hand, is sized to match the dimensions of the Mac Mini, and stacks as well.


The Hardware
The miniStack v2 is truly a marvel in design. The case matches the Mac Mini in size, theme, color, and feel. When the Mac Mini is stacked on the miniStack, it truly looks like it is integrated into the Mac Mini. It's so seamless that the two appear as one piece - slightly taller than the Mac Mini by itself, but still smaller than the old G4 Cube.

The miniStack includes a USB 2.0 "B" port and Firewire port which are both connected to your Mac Mini. The miniStack also provides additional USB and Firewire ports to your Mac Mini system. In essence, it acts as both an external drive as well as a USB and Firewire hub. The miniStack comes with 3 additional USB 2.0 ports, two in the back, and one conveniently placed on the side for easy access. Likewise, it includes 2 additional Firewire ports, one in the back and one on the side. The diagram below illustrates the location of the ports, as well as the power switch, power connection, cooling ports, hard drive switch, and security slot. The hard drive switch tells the miniStack whether to use the drive as a USB or Firewire external drive. All ports are active regardless of the switch setting, since the case also acts as a USB and Firewire hub.

Features

  • Powered USB 2.0 High-speed 3-port hub
  • Powered Firewire 2-port repeater/hub
  • Hard disk mode switch (Firewire or USB)
  • Mac savvy power bridge
  • Access and Power LED indicators
  • Intelligent cooling system with thermal probe that automatically regulates fan speed to hard drive temperature
  • Kensington MicroSaver security slot (anchor miniStack via a Kensington MicroSaver security cable)
  • A Passive heat sink built into the case radiates heat away from the hard drive
  • Concealed ventilation holes


Prices

Model Price
Enclosure Kit Only   $79.95
with 80GB 7200 2MB Cache   $124.99
with 160GB 7200 8MB Cache   $139.99
with 250GB 7200 8MB Cache   $175.00
with 320GB 7200 16MB Cache   $199.00
with 400GB 7200 16MB Cache   $279.99
with 500GB 7200 16MB Cache   $299.00
with 750GB 7200 16MB Cache   $559.99


NOTE: All of the prices, except for the enclosure kit only, appear to have dropped over the past few months. The best deal at the time of this review is the 500GB which is currently being offered as a summer special. The 80GB to 750GB models also include a copy of EMC Retrospect Express and Intech Speed Tools.

Installation
For this review, I received the enclosure kit only, so I needed to install my own hard drive. The process of installing a drive was very simple, only requiring a few screws. You first attach the drive to a metal plate, then attach the metal plate to the bottom of the case. The kit comes with everything required to install the drive (less the screwdriver). As you might imagine, it was a very tight fit getting a 3.5" drive into a case which matches the size of the Mac Mini. After the drive was in, I would say it was a perfect fit. I installed a 200GB Maxtor drive, closed up the kit, and was ready to put it in action.

If you purchase the kit with a hard drive, the drive is already installed and you can skip the above installation process.

Once your miniStack has a drive in it, you place the miniStack underneath your Mac Mini, plug in the AC cord, then connect the USB and Firewire bridge wires from the miniStack to the Mac Mini. The USB connection uses an A/B USB cable, with the B port on the miniStack. The Firewire connection uses a standard firewire cable, using any of the 3 Firewire ports on the miniStack (leaving the other two as extra Firewire ports). You can set the data transfer between the miniStack and the Mac Mini to use either Firewire or USB 2.0. With the cables connected, turn the unit on, and you are ready to roll!

In Use
After first turning on the miniStack, a beautiful elongated ambient blue light turned on (see figure below). This is called the "Cool Blue" LED Activity Light. This blue light is the power indicator, and also pulsates brighter when there is disk I/O activity. It is far more pleasant and interesting than the white pin-light on the Mac Mini.


miniStack underneath the Mac Mini

As advertised, the miniStack is a perfect match for the Mac Mini. Shown in the picture above, it blends into the Mac Mini as if it were part of the system. It's a brilliantly stylish way to add an external hard drive to the Mac Mini.

With the 200GB Maxtor drive installed in the miniStack, the unit was tested over several weeks, and performed flawlessly. Using either the Firewire or USB 2.0 protocol, the data transfer speeds were fantastic, with consistent and reliable performance. Having the extra USB and Firewire ports is also very convenient, giving me three extra USB ports and two extra Firewire ports. A nice design feature is that one of the USB 2.0 ports and one of the Firewire ports are located on the side of the miniStack, making them more accessible for portable devices (such as a USB drive or camera).

To really put the miniStack through some tests, I decided that I'd try booting a Mac Mini off of the miniStack drive. I installed Mac OS X Tiger on the miniStack, and connected it to the Mac Mini server that I use for serving the Mac Guild mailing list. This server runs 24/7, and supports email, mailing lists, FTP and web serving. The Mac Mini booted off of the drive without any issues at all. I configured all of the server software on the miniStack, and brought the server back online. Basically, everything was running off of the miniStack (the OS, the email server, the FTP server, the web server, and the mailing list server). After several weeks with the Mac Mini server running off of the miniStack, I experienced no problems. In fact, I nearly forgot that the Mac Mini was running off of the miniStack. The Mac Guild has been served around the clock, 24/7, directly from the miniStack. This was a major testament of just how reliable the miniStack is. Truly amazing.


With the drive running 24 hours a day, I was also impressed with how well the drive did not appear to get too hot. It uses an auto-adjusting fan to keep the drive cool. The built-in thermal sensor automatically regulates and varies fan speed according to the temperature of the hard drive. Additionally, the case includes a passive radiator heat sink that displaces heat from the hard drive, both protecting the drive and prolonging the drive life. There is also an extra large aluminum heat sink that directly contacts the hard drive for optimum temperature protection. Finally, there are concealed ventilation holes for protective thermal dispersion and silent cooling.

A lot of external hard drive cases that are available to both Macs and PCs typically have to be manually shut off after shutting down your computer. When it was time to power down the Mac Mini, I am happy to report that the miniStack uses an intelligent Power Smart power switch that powers the miniStack on and off in tandem with the Mac Mini. So when I shutdown the Mac Mini, the miniStack powers off as well. This makes the miniStack a hassle-free solution for any Mac system.

For those that are concerned with security, the miniStack includes a Kennsington MicroSaver security slot that allows the miniStack to be securely anchored to a desk or other surface via Kennsington MicroSaver security cable.

The miniStack comes with both a USB 2.0 A/B cable, a firewire cable, and the power cable (security cable is not included). It also comes with a full 2 year limited warranty. For those that purchase the kit with a hard drive already installed, you'll also get Retrospect Express backup software and Speed Tools utilities.


Summary
Newer Tech's miniStack v2 is a hard drive enclosure that stacks perfectly under the Mac Mini, but can house any 3.5" IDE drive. This means you can install hard drives up to 750GB, far more disk space than the Mac Mini's internal hard disk can support. In addition to stacking neatly with the Mac Mini, eliminating desktop clutter, the miniStack is designed with the Mac Mini theme, beautifully fusing the two components such that they appear as a single unit. The miniStack also sports three additional USB 2.0 ports and two additional Firewire ports, with one of each located on the side of the miniStack for easy access for portable devices. The miniStack performs fast data transfers using either the USB 2.0 or Firewire protocols, and includes a switch to let you choose the connection protocol. Most importantly, the miniStack is a reliable data storage solution for your Mac Mini. It continues to provide consistent and stable performance even with the OS and various server software running from the miniStack. For those that don't want to mess with hardware, you can purchase the miniStack with drives already installed, but if you want to save some serious money (IDE drives can always be found on sale at various retail and online electronics stores), purchase the drive kit only, as the miniStack design makes it very easy to install the drive yourself. The case also has some very efficient hard drive cooling features built-in, includes a Power Smart power switch, and includes a security slot for those that want to physically secure the drive. The miniStack v2 is the perfect Mac Mini companion for adding serious storage space, providing fast and reliable data transfers, and expanding USB and Firewire ports, all in a beautiful and smart Apple-themed design.


Pros

  • Mac Mini sized enclosure supports high capacity 3.5" IDE drives
  • Beautiful design matching Apple theme
  • Fast and reliable
  • Power Smart power switch
  • Also serves as a USB 2.0 hub and Firewire hub

Cons

  • Having to install the hard disk yourself may not be for everyone
  • Pricing gets considerably higher when purchasing with drives pre-installed


Overall Rating

5 out of 5 Mice